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Old September 25th, 2007, 02:09 PM   #1
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Production Quality vs Good Interviews

There is a dilemma I have been struggling with for a while now, and I was hoping to get some tips and advice from others.

Most of the video work I do is documentary style, and I shoot a lot of on-camera interviews. In many cases, the interview subjects are not used to speaking on camera, and they get very nervous for some reason. I feel like the nervousness and shyness increases as more hardware gets added, like a mic on boom pole, lights on stands, lavalier mics, etc. And when the subject is nervous, I feel like I'm not getting a good interview.

This being the case, I often try to keep things as simple as possible by using natural lighting and mounting a shotgun mic on the camera. While I sometimes get good results this way, other times tougher shooting conditions result in compromised images and audio. Yet, I still feel like I get a more relaxed interview subject, and as a result, a better interview.

So, I guess my question is how do others deal with this dilemma? When there is a choice between production quality and a good interview, which side do you err on? Or for that matter, how do you put an interview subject at ease when they are surrounded by camera, lights, and microphones?
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Old September 25th, 2007, 03:32 PM   #2
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I just recently started to do my own camera work. In the past I was working with a crew doing my proucing work without knowing anything about camera and sound operation. I really enjoy the way I work now.
Is the quality as good as it was, most of the time not, but as I improdved my skills it"s getting better. Is the quality acceptable (magazine, documentary type) yes, always. But in all cases, the process is simpler and the comfort zone for my guest is greater.
The presence of the crew is by itself impressive, everyone tend to do its best and sometime, show off a little. This of course create an intimidating zone for the guest.
I tend to shoot closer, reducing the need for to too complex lighting. I always use an Omni Lav wireless and try to be simple and unpretentious in my relationship to the subject.
There is no definite answer to your question, it depend on your situation and the end used of your product. But, if content is prime for you , then the choice is easy. Make sure you don't overdo it, be as simple as possible, choose the most efficient approach and always, always be mindful and respectful of you guest.
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Old September 25th, 2007, 03:55 PM   #3
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Some things that might help...

1- Ask really easy questions first to help build up their comfort. What is your name, what is your title, what do you do. Those are really easy questions and it'll get them talking.

*When they answer, make sure they say "My name is ___" instead of "___". This way all the answers will cut easily when you edit.

2- Ask open ended questions, instead of yes/no questions. You get better answers, answers you don't expect, and the subject has to think about their answer (and then they're not focused on the fact that they're being filmed).

"Why?" is usually a good question.

3- If you have to ask tough questions, displace the question onto other people. "Suppose someone were to say/ask ____... how would you respond to them?"
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Old September 26th, 2007, 09:51 AM   #4
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Talk to them about anything first, and ease into the interview, I joke around with my subjects a bit. If it's a topic they are passionate about then they will soon forget about the camera, lights etc. People love to talk about themselves etc. but most of all there are three little words.... content is king.
I will take great content over a great shot with no content anytime. Granted both would be the goal, great content and a great looking shot, but without content you got nothin.

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Old September 26th, 2007, 10:31 AM   #5
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I always start out by getting things as setup as possible before the interviewee gets into the room and then I get them into the chair and talking to me as much as I can. I find that if they are talking to me about simple stuff, they have something to focus on and they don't get as nervous. I'll do my final adjustments on lights and mic while this is going on.

After that, I sit down and talk to them about the process of the interview and I ask them to do me two favors. Favor #1 is to ignore the lights and the camera and just talk to me. Favor #2 is to put the question back into the answer (as was stated earlier). I emphasize why this is, I explain that I'm not wearing a microphone and the camera/audience won't hear me. Now I give an example - "If I were to ask you 'what's your favorite color?' and you say, 'blue,' no one is going to know why you said blue. It could be the color of your car, the color of the sky, or how you're feeling today. But if you answer, 'my favorite color is blue,' then everybody knows what you are talking about. So, what color is your shirt?"

I know this seems a bit over-explained, but it works. They have the knowledge on why I want a certain response and they've done it once ("My shirt is yellow"). If people know what is expected of them, their anxiety level goes way down.

Now I start off with the easy questions to warm them up (as was stated earlier). This gets them into the rhythm and allows me to find out more about them and what they do. I also have a chance to continue to check that they are restating the question back into their answer. Also, after each answer, I find something positive to say about that answer ("That's really interesting." or "That's exactly the type of answer I'm looking for." or something similar).

All of this, is done to build their confidence. If they are confident in the situation, they can't be nervous.

Hope this helps...
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Old September 26th, 2007, 10:47 AM   #6
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Much depends on your preferred 'look' and what your intended content is, of course, but I'll concur with what has been said before.

Content is primary. No content, no interview, no footage for your documentary.

Having said that, the comfort of the subject is paramount. Different people will react differently to lights/crew/set. MUCH will depend on YOUR interaction with them. If YOU are not comfortable with the fact that there are other people and crew members on set, taking your attention - then the subject won't be comfortable. IF you are worried about the lights, audio and backdrop, then the subject will pick up on that.

They are looking to you for a sense of direction and they are trusting you to not make them look foolish.

So, yes - take the time to 'warm them up'... try not to be doing five other things at the same time. (This can be very hard if you're a one man band) As others have said, do as much preperation as possible beforehand. Explain how their interview will be used. Explain the 'restating the question' in the answer format as outlined by the others above. IF it's true, then assure them that their answers will be 'cleaned up' - with the ums, ers and coughs removed. Tell them to take their time, and if they want to start over with an answer, that it will be okay.

And this is key for me... GIVE THEM FACE.

I've had to shoot interviews, run audio, be the director AND the interviewer at the same time. I HATE doing that. Sure, you can tell the subject to 'look at the X on the wall when you are answering me.' to get the sitelines right, but really... if at all possilbe, give them YOUR FACE or the INTERVIEWERS FACE to talk to and make sure that person is giving them facial responses to their answers. They need to feel empathy for their response. They don't want to start talking, and have you walk away and adjust a light, or look back into the viewfinder, or turn away to ask the audio if it's okay... They want to talk to a human, and that relationship WILL show up on the screen.

I'm not saying you can't 'talk to the hand' if you're pressed into it, I'm just saying it's better to have them talking to a human than a mark.
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Old September 26th, 2007, 12:18 PM   #7
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Thanks for the responses, everyone. Some great advice here, some of which I already do, and some of which is new to me. I must admit, my shooting lately has been very rapid fire, and I haven't taken much time to prep the interview subjects. I guess that partially comes from working with deadlines. Also, I sense that some interview subjects just want to "get it over with" or are pressed for time, so I try to get it done as fast as possible. But I guess I'm wasting both our time if I don't prep them well. And yes, I always try to have at least one person interviewing and one person operating the equipment. One time, my partner didn't show up and I had to do everything solo. Not ideal, but I managed somehow. Again, thanks for the responses.
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Old September 27th, 2007, 02:54 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brennan Houlihan View Post
There is a dilemma I have been struggling with for a while now, and I was hoping to get some tips and advice from others.

Most of the video work I do is documentary style, and I shoot a lot of on-camera interviews. In many cases, the interview subjects are not used to speaking on camera, and they get very nervous for some reason. I feel like the nervousness and shyness increases as more hardware gets added, like a mic on boom pole, lights on stands, lavalier mics, etc. And when the subject is nervous, I feel like I'm not getting a good interview.

This being the case, I often try to keep things as simple as possible by using natural lighting and mounting a shotgun mic on the camera. While I sometimes get good results this way, other times tougher shooting conditions result in compromised images and audio. Yet, I still feel like I get a more relaxed interview subject, and as a result, a better interview.

So, I guess my question is how do others deal with this dilemma? When there is a choice between production quality and a good interview, which side do you err on? Or for that matter, how do you put an interview subject at ease when they are surrounded by camera, lights, and microphones?
I have just what you need. It is a battery powered hand held mic pre amp from M-audio. It is called the Micro Track and it is amazing. 24 bit wav and mp3 recordings and it runs on batterys. So if you want to go minimalistic, without making your sound quality suffer because of your needs, then this is the way to go. Once you have recorded, a usb connection is equipped so you can plug it straight into the computer, then its as easy as a drag and drop. If you can wait about a month or two, the new version is getting ready to come out, and it's amazing. I will be getting one the day it comes out.

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Old September 27th, 2007, 02:58 PM   #9
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FWIW, I'll comprimize almost anything in order to get a brilliant interview...

EXCEPT AUDIO.
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Old October 2nd, 2007, 11:15 AM   #10
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Richard hit on a key, face time. And others echoed getting things set before hand.

In my day job I work a lto with Judges, from all around the state, who never have time. While i don't have an actual "studio" (but I can dream can't I?) I schedule a conference room, move furniture, get everything set up, lits positioned using a stand/sit in and then wait for them to arrive. Once there they are in and out in minutes. If I had to go to their office/chambers and set up, it would be rush and hurried (they are using the office whiel I am trying to set up around them)

If it is an interview, I try to set up a monitor(or use the flip out screen on my DSR 250) and sit in the interviewers chair. Granted this limits any shot changes outside of a slight pan to keep them in frame, but it gets them into a "conversation" with me, and not staring blankly at the wall.

I try to do the same, the the room set etc when I have them in front of a prompter for on-camera addresses, but I warm them up the same way and give them a few pointers, like not looking off camera to me for approval, but continueing to look into the lens after they have finished.
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Old October 2nd, 2007, 04:19 PM   #11
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Unless the subject is an experienced interviewee you really need to spend some time talking to them. They should speak to a person, not marks or Xs, you can do that with actors, but interviews are different. The interviewer should have good technique, only be aware of and interested in the interviewee. Good interviewers give loads of eye contact and are supportive.

Find a location that suits the mood and subject matter of the interview.

Use a mic on a mic stand. You won't have rustling sounds everytime the interviewee moves.

Lights etc tend not to be a problem unless they're placed close to the eyeline with the interviewer. The lighting should match the style of the production.

Unfortunately, there are a few people who will give a poor interview regardless of how simple you keep the set up. There's nothing much you can really do about this, sometimes they can be people who you least expect to have a problem giving an interview.
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Old October 2nd, 2007, 06:23 PM   #12
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Great info. Thanks.
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